Collective & Transgenerational Trauma in Uruguay

Lab Cycle Oct 2020 - July 2021 Report


Giselle Charbonnier & Laura Pallares


Cecilia Rado, Gisela Menni & Laura Pastorini




Through this series of gatherings, we met with a group of people from Uruguay who, for the most part, did not know each other from before, and witnessed them coming to a sense of belonging and coherence. Practicing the skill of ”feeling together” was a constant invitation from us, as a key resource to process and look beyond the polarized and excluded narratives. We compiled relevant information into a timeline and, when we felt the group was resourced enough, we invited a visual artist to do a graphic recording while we read the timeline. We invited participants to read the points which were most alive for them while the graphic recording was being done. The result was a powerful mandala with many dimensions and connections also beyond Uruguay. We feel there was a high level of group coherence to go through hyper-activation, numbing or collapsing, while we collectively processed our history of trauma, as well as presenced current events such as the pandemic.

We started out with a group of 32 participants and completed with 27 participants. We met for eight sessions, from November 25th, 2020 to June 23rd, 2021. We also held 3 extra practice sessions for participants to acquire the skills of Transparent Communication.

We explored the following questions:

  • The genocide of native peoples, slavery, immigration, colonialism, land appropriation, independence wars, civil wars, dictatorships, and emigration.
  • The many ways in which these topics influence our cultural architecture and social and economic structures, such as Uruguay’s place in the global financial architecture. 
  • The way in which these wounds influence the construction of identity and the process of ‘othering’ and polarization in Uruguay according to ethnicity, social privileges and structural injustice
  • How historical trauma and “othering” is reproduced by a current wave of Latin American immigrants.
  • Our cultural shadow agreements, how they are expressed or denied in our use of language, and how they reinforce the consequences of specific traumas.
  • Possibilities for coherent we-spaces, social structures, and institutions which could foster the integration and healing of collective trauma.

Due to the intensity of the material we were delving in, and the limited time we had, we could not  look in depth at the current COVID-19 trauma, but we acknowledged its signs and burning presence.

Stages of our process as a group:

Building coherence and gathering resources. From the first session onwards, we invoked the connection with our landscapes, natural forests, abundant rivers, and ocean. We also introduced the theoretical framework.
Introducing specific competencies of our work. We initiated the exploration of the landscape of collective trauma in Uruguay, and, as homework, we invited participants to identify main trauma events and share them in a common folder.
With the material gathered from the previous two meetings, we prepared a timeline which we started to share in this meeting. We invited participants to connect with and read it in a felt way. We perceived that the emotional intensity and activation was very high, and we decided to pause the process and give space for sharing, grounding, and group coherence.
We facilitators shared our felt sense of the need to strengthen our resources and group coherence before continuing to go deeper into the trauma landscape and timeline. We then worked on building personal and group coherence and resourcing. We looked at polarization and we brought the ancestral qualities of working in a circle. At this point we decided to offer three extra sessions to practice the tools of Transparent Communication.
We felt the need to present again our extended framework of the Labs, as a means of orientation and resourcing. We started connecting with our ancestors, paying special attention to separation strategies and muted voices - a topic that had been strongly and silently present since the first encounters.
With the intention to finish the process of looking at the whole timeline, we prepared the group with practices of self regulation, co-regulation, and a deep meditation. We invited participants to read the points which were most alive for them while the graphic recording was being done. The result was a powerful mandala with many dimensions and connections extending also beyond Uruguay - strongly reflecting the disconnection between political boundaries set by dominant powers, and social and natural landscapes.
We explored ethical resaturation and personal and social transformation. In preparation for our final meeting, and in order to provide a space for processing and digestion of our whole journey, we used the Stuck Exercise from the Social Presencing Theatre, a technique with which we had already been working in previous sessions. The Stuck Exercise is a powerful tool for finding an expression of embodied conflict and to allow for the natural wisdom of the body to find a movement towards release and healing.
We had a very powerful and cohesive last meeting. After an initial meditation, looking at ethical restoration and its power of transmutation, we looked in silence at the graphic representation of our collective trauma landscape. We explored the possibility of an “open” closing, with the idea of a seed we were planting on fertile ground - the powerful and nurturing land whose presence we vividly felt during the whole Lab process. We ended with an exercise of Social Presencing Theatre, feeling our bodies as individual seeds being born from our common process.
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Moments of Challenge


    • While presenting the timeline for the first time, we suddenly felt the need to pause due to the intense activation that this caused. We felt that more time was needed for digestion and we felt that the group was still not prepared and coherent enough to hold this intensity of trauma. At this point we felt the need to prioritize the reality of the group field over the suggested sequence.
    • In the following session we, the facilitators, experienced a growing dynamic of polarization, until we realized we were being influenced by the polarization  of the collective trauma field of Uruguay. We then decided to share this insight with the group  and, from that moment on, we could move together with ease from a common ground. As a result, we ended up having a powerful process with the whole group. Having been able to see, integrate, and transcend this dynamic was an important learning milestone for both of us facilitators.


We had many moments of grace in the collective presence of the whole group, with deep silence and stillness, and in our team meetings with our collaborators who have extraordinary human qualities as well as high skills and experience. Below are some that stood out: 


  • While reading the timeline, when we came to the point of the first conqueror, Juan Diaz de Solis, reaching our shores, the person who felt called to speak about this stopped for a deep moment of silence and then just said “we killed him”. There was a strong impact and resonance felt in the group, to see ourselves as “we” together with our native people, and to acknowledge the perpetrator aspects in all of us. We feel this paved the path to be able to start healing the othering, and feel our interbeing with all perpetrators. This felt like an important step for the integration and transcendence of our internal polarities.
  • We experienced profound and strong moments when participants exposed very intense and vulnerable inner places and biographical experiences. We could feel how healing it was for them to be able to open themselves and be received with compassion in a non-judgemental space, and for the group to part-take in this intensity and feel itself as a mature, coherent container.
  • The graphic representation allowed us to acknowledge the complex, multidimensional and intertwined layers of the collective trauma, and its paths towards healing. Moving from words to visual representation provided a powerful integrative healing movement on its own, opening a door for new integrations to be felt and made explicit by many participants.


Insights about Collective Trauma in Uruguay

  • The power of local nature: native forests, rivers and stones as resources, and the relations these can have with the strength and resilience of our people.
  • The magnitude of the genocide of the native people, especially aggravated by them having been betrayed by the local leaders they had fought for, and the deep impact this still has on our society today.
  • The depth and width of muteness and distrust subjacent in the social field.  Our hearts felt expanded when we decided to name and make space to listen to these muted voices and the vastness of their suppression.
  • The impact of repeated interventions of external powers creating internal division, resulting in extreme polarization which still affects our society today.


Insights about the process 

  • We were careful with regards to following the suggested sequence in this healing process. It was an important reminder for us to stay loyal to our own sense of the pulse of collective fields, and the need to strengthen group coherence and resourcing in a way that was proportional to the high levels of activation we are addressing.
  • Our most powerful realization or confirmation was to find ourselves, as a facilitation team,  involved in the collective trauma field without being able, for some time, to recognize how we were literally being impacted by its dynamics. The fact that we were initially unaware of this was a powerful wake-up call to the importance of being attentive to these dynamics. 

Our Lab Team

Giselle Charbonnier

Giselle Charbonnier

Laura Pallares

Laura Pallares

Gisela Meni

Gisela Menni

Laura Pasotrini

Laura Pastorini

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